Baton Rouge’s Clean Sweep Survives 1000-Year Flood

cleansweepwordsanim by Ranger Kidwell-Ross In August 2016, prolonged rainfall in southern parts of the U.S. state of Louisiana resulted in catastrophic flooding that submerged thousands of houses and businesses. Louisiana’s governor, John Bel Edwards, called the disaster a “historic, unprecedented flooding event” and declared a state of emergency. Many rivers and waterways, particularly the Amite and Comite rivers, reached record levels, and rainfall exceeded 20 inches (510 mm) in multiple parishes. Because of the large number of homeowners without flood insurance that were affected, the federal government is providing disaster aid through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The flood has been called the worst US natural disaster since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. A total of 13 deaths were reported as a result of the flooding. sealofyearswebClean Sweep Inc. is a Baton Rouge-based sweeping company owned by Warren and Bridget Burge. The firm is a Founding Member of the World Sweeping Association, as well as a member of WSA’s Advisory Board. Unfortunately, although the Clean Sweep office was not considered to be in a flood plain area, it turned out to be in the middle of this unprecedented, thousand year flood. The firm typically operates about X number of parking lot sweepers and X street sweepers, as well as a variety of other pavement maintenance equipment. Here’s what happened. “We went to bed on a Friday night,” said Bridget,  “and by the next morning, according to the weather bureau, it had rained 3 trillion gallons. For us, tcleansweepsubmergedsweepersanim400hat meant that 30 inches of rain had fallen overnight. By the time Warren got to our shop in the morning it was too late. We couldn’t get our trucks out.  The water stayed there, 55 inches deep, for almost three days. There was nothing we could do to stop it.” Hindsight being 2020, there are many things that Bridget said they would do differently in the future. One of these was to not leave records stored in a ground-floor location. And, although they subscribed to a cloud-based backup service so as to not rely solely on on-site backup, some amount of the data were lost. Challenges occurred even though the precautions the company had taken were prudent. “We were able to grab a couple of computers when the water was only 10 inches deep,” said Bridget. “However, there was only so much we could grab. We did put a few things up in the attic but for the most part we lost 26 years of customer records, tax records, everything that was paper-based. “Even though we back up to a remote location every night, much of what we got back ended up being scrambled. Still, it was a very good thing to be able to get back most of the data in our main desktop computer. And, my computer had been outfitted with a solid-state drive (SSD). Even though it sat in the water for three days, they were able to pull off every bit of data from it. From our experience, I would encourage people to invest that small amount extra to have their data on an SSD drive.” cleansweepfloodedoffice400anim2Unlike a disaster that strikes only a single company, in this case most everyone in Clean Sweep’s surrounding market area was affected, including their employees. Once the water went down, Bridget says the mess and chaos was unbelievable as employees and customers alike struggled with dealing with it all. “Our sweeping revenue was affected from day one,” said Bridget, “even though we could keep going because we had some of our sweepers stored at our other shop which, although it was located only a mile away, did not flood. As you might imagine, though, customers who had been flooded did not want us to sweep even if we had the capability to do so. “Then, we also had third-party vendor problems. Astonishingly, they wanted us to continue sweeping at the same price per sweep as we would if there had not been a flood. However, all of our accounts in the affected area had many times the debris and other problems on their properties and this was completely unfeasible to do. “One of the third-party vendors we work with, when they couldn’t get us to agree to sweep at the same price, allegedly told a contractor in another area that we were out of business and there was a good opportunity for them to establish a new office in Baton Rouge. Fortunately, the contractor called us, related to us what he had been told and, when he learned we were operational and planning to stay that way, he declined to take their business and move into Baton Rouge.” Clean Sweep lost a total of seven sweepers in the flood, one of which was brand-new. Fortunately, they had a couple of trucks in the shop  having warranty work done. Otherwise, the disaster would have been even worse because they would have been covered, as well. What they had seen as misfortune that relatively new sweepers had to be sent to a service provider for warranty work turned out to be a positive. The owners have long been involved in the greater U.S. power sweeping community, something that served them well during the crisis. When a call for help was sent out, the response was both immediate and gratifying. 1-800-sweeper-logo“We are members of 1-800-SWEEPER,” said Bridget, “and their coordinator, Greg Blair, sent out a message asking if anyone in that organization could help us. Carl Barton, with Aardvark Sweepers, ended up sending us two sweepers he had put up for trade with TYMCO.  We actually ended up buying them from him for the same price as TYMCO was giving him for them as a trade. logo2012_250w“We lost our parking garage sweeper, so that was a replacement we also needed. In that regard, John and Tracy Day, from Nitehawk Sweepers,  stepped up to the plate by shipping us two sweepers they had out in the field as demos. Ultimately, we ended up buying one of these, the Raptor. It is a multi-fuel unit, gas or CNG, and we are excited about giving that system a try. “Wayne Sweeper is in the process of putting one of their prototype parking lot sweepers onto a chassis we own, so we should have that one soon. We were also in the process of building another sweeper ourselves, so we have additionally able to put that one into service.” On the downside, even though their office has been cleaned out and they have been running a edhumidifier 24/7, it’s open-ended how long it will take to get back into their facility. Until then, the business is being run out of their houses, which were fortunately not flooded. “We don’t know how long we will have to wait for a contractor to get in and start working on renovating our office structure,” said Bridget, “and we are now mostly using our cell phones to conduct business. You can imagine that if 120,000 homes and businesses flooded all at one time how difficult it is going to be to get a contractor onto our particular project. We are just trying to get by until we can find a contractor to do the work needed to get us back into our office. “At the moment, though, you can’t even get doors and sheet rock here in our area.  For doors, you have to wait three weeks after ordering to get them into Home Depot. It’s been a complete catastrophe.” cleansweepcartoononlygraphicanimorigFortunately, as of two months later the company has revenue flowing at about 95% of the level prior to the flood.  One of the problems they’ve been facing, though, is that many of their employees homes were flooded, too. That has created difficulties with getting them back to work on a steady basis.  Some were living in shelters, though making it to work, but one has still not been able to get back on the job. There was also widespread flooding of cars and the governor passed a law saying that none may be salvaged; all had to be crushed. This has made it impossible for some people to procure another vehicle. It also meant Clean Sweep could not salvage any of its sweepers, even in order to salvage parts that would have been reusable otherwise. Because the company was insured, that lessened the financial blow. However, as is the case in most insurance scenarios, they found themselves under-insured in several areas. “We won’t let that happen to us again,” said Bridget. “We just never imagined that we would have a thousand year flood. We had recently reduced the coverage on our contents, so that was unfortunate. Most of the rest looks like it will pan out okay but there’s really no way to mitigate the disruption and chaos, both in our business and with everyone in our area.” When asked about advice she would offer others in terms of working through some kind of similar business catastrophe, here’s what Bridget had to say: “You will always have a number of clients who will be very concerned about their properties, especially the out-of-state property managers. You have to be willing and able to go out to their properties and assess their damages, then report back to them. They were understandably very worried and, in our case, the phone lines were down and there was no way they could find out what had happened on their property right away. “You also have to exercise extreme caution. In our case, we have a picture of a snake that ended up on the wall where we put our drivers’ route sheets. It’s dangerous; for example, I also killed a small water moccasin and we had dead fish all over our shop floor because it was the bayou that backed up and flooded. “In many ways, though, we are very lucky. There are many, many people around us who have lost everything they worked for in their entire lives. Everything they own is sitting in a sodden heap on the edge of the road. We all have to spray for mold, too, let it dry for so many weeks, and then do it again. That is definitely a hassle. There is no way for any of us to go back to a normal life right away, and there are so many families affected…” Bridget and Warren Burge may be contacted via the company’s website,  

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